Pervasive fear of gay men is difficult to fathom
By LEONARD PITTS JR.
Knight Ridder Tribune


Let's agree on one thing right from the top: The arm is not an erogenous zone.

Not for most of us, anyway. I mean, if you turn to pudding when somebody touches you there, more power to you. For the rest of us, though, it's not a particularly personal area.But apparently, it is for David Lewis.

That's the name of the Manchester, Vt., man who nearly derailed the Rev. Gene Robinson's confirmation as the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church.On the eve of this week's vote at the church's convention in Minneapolis, Lewis e-mailed to church bishops a claim that Robinson subjected him to "homosexual harassment" by touching him inappropriately four years ago.

The accusation forced a postponement of the vote on Robinson's confirmation while an investigation was held. Investigators discovered that the so-called inappropriate touching was of Lewis' arm, back and shoulder as he and Robinson stood chatting in a public place.Lewis, apparently suffering a late attack of common sense, declined to lodge a formal complaint. And I hope he had the good taste to be embarrassed by his own silliness.

An accusation that Robinson was tied to a Web site that carried links to pornography was found to be equally baseless. The vote was rescheduled, and Robinson was confirmed.Which has left the Episcopalians in an uproar. Some members are furious at a decision they feel flouts biblical injunctions against homosexuality. There have been dire predictions that this will lead to a schism in the denomination.

What gets me, though, is the initial accusation that it constitutes harassment when a gay man claps you on the back. If anything, the good reverend sounds like one of Jerry Seinfeld's "close talkers," those invaders of personal space who stand too near while you're chatting with them.

Which is annoying, yes, but hardly counts as sexual groping. The idea that a decent and intelligent man -- let's give Lewis the benefit of the doubt -- could take it as such speaks to the unreasonable panic that grips many of us when the topic is homosexuality.

What you have in David Lewis' response to Gene Robinson's touch is an echo of Jonathan Schmitz, who showed up at the front door of an acquaintance, Scott Amedure, and shot him to death, three days after learning during a taping of the Jenny Jones program that Amedure had a crush on him.

It is an echo, too, of Aaron McKinney, who, with a friend, kidnapped a young man named Matthew Shepard, viciously pistol-whipped him and left him strung up to a prairie fence. McKinney's defense, when he was tried for murder, was that Shepard had made a sexual advance.

And have you noticed how it's usually homosexual men who seem to incite such violent reprisal?

You have only to flip through a men's magazine to know that -- putting it mildly -- lesbians don't arouse the same level of revulsion. Not that they haven't known their share of violence and ostracism. But the animosities are more raw, the responses more reliably vicious, when straight men confront gay ones.

It is as if gay men represent something so primally unsettling, so disconcerting on some primordial, preverbal level, that violence becomes, for some heterosexual men, the instinctive response. They are seized with a need to kill it, stomp it to pieces.

For them, gay men threaten masculinity itself. For them, homosexuality is something you fear.

You may not buy that, but I'll bet Gene Robinson does.

He went among the faithful to celebrate his confirmation Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

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